**30 Books in 30 Days**
This was one of the last books I read in my thirty day book binge, and I think it says something about how good it was that even though I had some book fatigue going on, I happily and quickly finished this in less than two days. It’s not a huge book, but it’s not small, either.
Like Turton’s first book, this is a mystery at heart, and also like his first book, there are some complicating factors that give it an extra oomph. Here, we’ve got almost the entire story taking place on a ship in the middle of the ocean, and a potential spot of demon possession, and a potential curse, and only the assistant of a famous detective can save the day. Also, it’s 1634 and the Dutch East India Company rules the world through commerce. The ship they’re on in is an Indiaman heading back from Batavia (present day Jakarta).
Aboard is the famous detective Samuel Pipps, but he’s in chains locked away for a crime no one will say, and no one knows if he actually committed. His loyal bodyguard and assistant (and chronicler) Arent Hayes is our main view into the narrative at first. The relationship between the two of them is very much an homage to the Sherlock Holmes/John Watson dynamic, but Turton has fun playing with and undermining that. when people start dying, after a leper appears to have cursed their ship at the beginning of the voyage, it’s Hayes that has to figure out what’s going on, with the assistance of Sara, the beleaguered wife of the master of the voyage, Governor Jan Haan, who is a real piece of work.
The atmosphere in this book was just so rich and fun. I loved all the historical details (though it’s important to note that Turton plays fast and loose with history itself; as he mentions in his author’s note at the end, he’s written historical fiction “where the history is the fiction”). The Dutch East India company is a smart choice for a looming presence of evil to pair with an actual (possible) demon; they were just one branch of colonialism at the time committing atrocities for profit. The ship is also populated by an extremely varied and entertaining cast of characters.
My favorite part about this book is how you think it’s one thing almost the whole way through, and then it turns out to be something else entirely. It’s deceptively simple in its set-up (which is the exact opposite approach Turton took in The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle where he just drops the reader into the middle of something confusing and you eventually catch on). This was actually going to be more of a four star, maybe four and a half star read most of the way through, but the ending clinched that extra star.
Highly recommend this one! Especially for mystery lovers.
“The sky wasn’t merely blue. The ocean wasn’t merely wet. Sammy wasn’t like anybody else. Wealth, power, and privilege didn’t matter to him. If he thought somebody was guilty of the crime he was investigating, he’d accuse them.
Sammy was what Arent hoped the entire world could be. If an old woman was wronged, she should have her recompense, whether she was rich or poor, strong or weak. The weak shouldn’t have to fear the powerful, and the powerful shouldn’t simply be allowed to take what they wanted without consequence. Power should be a burden, not a shield. It should be used to everybody’s betterment, not merely for the person who wielded it.
Arent shook his head. He hated it when his thoughts fell down this hole. It made him maudlin. He’d lived too long and traveled too far to believe in hearth tales, but while Sammy was alive, kings and nobles had somebody to fear. That was a comforting idea.”
CBR BINGO: Reader’s Choice (Replacing ‘Rep’)